Monday, October 29, 2007

Floyd (not Pink)

After having warned us not to think of the early Wittgenstein simply as a Russellian logical atomist, Juliet Floyd follows up with this:
I suggest, more generally, that we should beware of insisting that the best way to do history of philosophy is to look for labels that join these philosophers together in a tradition by way of commonly held doctrine or method. Instead, we should look toward how the Tractatus is transforming the Fragestellungen, the problem-contexts and concepts that it inherits from Frege, Russell, and others. This implies that we may sometimes need to look outside the Tractatus, to its wider intellectual context, in order to gauge its language's purposes, effects, debts, successes, and failures. It also implies that we need to be willing at times to question the idea that the most interesting way to account for Wittgenstein's philosophical evolution, and the evolution of early analytic philosophy as a whole, is in terms of the mistaken-thesis, correction-of-the-mistaken-thesis model. The situation is more complex. The evolution might be better conceived as an evolving expressive tradition within philosophy, a way in which the formulation of various kinds of conceptual questions and problems is constructed rather than foreseen, in which certain questions and problems come to be solved in their very formulation and certain others are, in Ernst's vivid phrase, simply allowed to fall away as silly or insignificant.
This is fairly obvious, but still worth saying (not sure about "constructed rather than foreseen" though, as a way of making the point). It does mean, however, that we may not then turn around and deny the relevance of extra-textual (i.e. extra-Tractarian) evidence concerning Wittgenstein's intentions in that book, as wielded so impressively by those (e.g. Hacker) opposed to the "resolute" reading (or as Floyd calls it, the "Jacobin" reading). This is from her article "Wittgenstein and the Inexpressible," in Alice Crary, ed., Wittgenstein and the Moral Life: Essays in Honor of Cora Diamond. This brand new release (only $36 in paperback from Amazon!) also features that humongous essay by James Conant, "Mild Mono-Wittgensteinianism," (which is also available as a pdf file on his webpage).

I got this from Amazon's "Look inside this book!" feature, which unfortunately does not allow you to copy and paste. I need the typing practice, though, so here's another excerpt, from the beginning:
The most fundamental divide among interpreters of Wittgenstein lies, for me, between those who detect in Wittgenstein's writings some form of semantic or epistemic resource argument, an argument ultimately appealing to the finitude or expressive limitations of language—whether it be truth-functional, constructivist, social-constructivist, antirealist, assertion-conditionalist, formalist, conventionalist, finitist, empiricist, or what have you—and those who instead stress Wittgenstein's criticisms of the assumptions lying behind the desire for such resource arguments, criticisms that in the end turn upon stressing the open-ended evolution, the variety, and the irreducible complexity of human powers of expression. The former kind of reader sees the inexpressible as a limitation, a reflection of what is illegitimate in grammar or fails to be epistemically justifiable; the latter sees the inexpressible as a fiction, an illusion produced by an overly simplified conception of human expression.
Naturally the latter readers are the good guys – including of course Diamond, on whom, Festschrift-style, she bestows effusive praise, as well as Cavell, Dreben, and Warren Goldfarb. Hmm, maybe I should have applied to Harvard after all (I wouldn't have gotten in, but it's the thought that counts, right?). Incidentally, when Columbia/Barnard was searching for a senior woman a while back, we were treated to a round of job talks by the candidates, including Floyd, Jennifer Hornsby, and Constance Meinwald. I would have been stoked (as the kids say nowadays) if one of them had been hired, but none was (although not, rumor has it, for lack of offers).

Anyway, that seems an important connection for the "New Wittgensteinians" (of whom Professor Floyd is of course one) to make – between their characteristic obsession with rejecting the inexpressible, on the one hand, and Wittgenstein's equally characteristic procedure (congenial, I imagine, to Wittgensteinians of all eras) of criticizing the assumptions underlying what he sees as an illicit desire for certain types ("constructive" or otherwise) of philosophical argument. Still, I think that even the metaphilosophical skepticism of the latter approach (as opposed to what we might call the transcendental skepticism of the former) can be overdone. But let's not get into that today.

It's hard to defeat the purpose of the Look Inside feature by reading the entire thing without buying the book, but it's not impossible, so I may be back with more quotes.


Daniel said...

"It's hard to defeat the purpose of the Look Inside feature by reading the entire thing without buying the book, but it's not impossible, so I may be back with more quotes."

I once read the whole of "Reality Without Reference" on Amazon, despite owning the book in which it's collected. I didn't feel like figuring out where it was on the shelves, or if I'd even unpacked it.

"Search Inside This Book" is one of the best things on the internet.

Ted said...

Here's a link to another Look Inside for the book, called "ViewInside" from MIT Press. One can even buy it as an ebook! So, we can read it online without ever having to figure out where it is on the shelf.